Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Decrees and the Divine Will: The Activity of God in Salvation, Pt. 3: Molinism's Flawed Critique of Classical Arminianism

“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation by presenting God’s decision concerning individuals as something entirely passive. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate. In this respect Arminians view God’s decrees as the mere ratification of human choices. But the Bible presents God’s electing decision as something much more active and decisive. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism describes God as using His foreknowledge in a sovereign, unconditional manner” (Dr. Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 141-142).
In the last two posts, I have dealt with issues of the sovereignty of God, as well as God’s active role in salvation. Contra Dr. Keathley, Classic Arminians do not assume that God is passive in salvation. Since we hold to the antecedent/consequent wills approach (see part 2 of the series), we believe that the sovereign Lord of creation has placed salvation before every individual due to His own decision. Since Christ not only purchased our redemption but offers it on His own terms, He has been more active in salvation in the Classic Arminian view than Molinists give our theology credit for.
In today’s post, I am back to critique the caricaturized version of Arminian theology that has been placed upon us--- that is, the idea that we only hold to corporate election.
What I failed to place in the quote above is a footnote. After the statement that Arminians see the decrees as God’s concession to human decision, there is a footnote there. The footnote references Robert Shank’s “Elect in the Son,” pages 45-55. I own Robert Shanks’ work and I took the time today to look through it. Shank does indeed hold to corporate election. Shank writes on page 45, “A second aspect of election is implicit in Paul’s Ephesian doxology: the election to salvation is corporate as well as Christocentric” (Robert Shank, “Elect In the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Election.” Grand Rapids: Bethany House Publishers, 1989, page 45).
However, Dr. Keathley’s error is that he attributes Shank’s view of election to all of Arminianism itself. This is problematic when one considers that Arminius held to both corporate AND individual election. As Arminius writes regarding the decrees in his section titled “My Own Sentiments on Predestination”:
“To these succeeds the FOURTH decree, by which God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere,---according to the before-described administration of those means which are suitable and proper for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere” (James Arminius, “Works” I:653-654).
Notice the phrase “save and damn certain particular persons”? This should clear up any misconceptions about Arminius. He writes in his own theology that he held to both corporate AND individual election. The problem with Dr. Ken Keathley’s assessment is that he takes Shank’s view and applies it to all Arminians. In actuality, to hold to only corporate election is to hold to a somewhat Open Theist view of election (see “Perspectives On Election: Five Views by Brand where Clark Pinnock holds to an “Open” View of election). If the truth be told, Classic Arminians hold to individual and corporate election just as much as Molinists and Classic Calvinists. If Arminians are deemed “less orthodox,” it cannot be on the basis of their view on election. Our doctrine of election is as robust as any other accepted theological system present in evangelicalism today.
Classic Arminians do hold to God’s active role in salvation. God Himself decided to send His Son to die for the sins of the world; He then decided to allow us to come to faith, set the conditions for the reception of salvation, and decreed to dispense grace and faith so that all could believe; last but not least, God knew within Himself, from before the foundation of the world, who would and would not believe and endure until the end. The Classic Arminian God may not pick some individuals and abandon others, but He does have an active role in the salvation of mankind. God does not just “ratify” human choices; He designed salvation to be given upon human reception of eternal life. As Dr. Keathley himself has said, “If man is to choose between heaven and hell, it is because the Lord of Creation has placed the choice before him” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 60). If that makes God passive, then I will boldly say that the Scriptures affirm it...rather than let my notions of divine sovereignty drive my own conception of the divine.
More to come at CTS...Stay tuned.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Have you seen the new book on Classical Arminianism from F. Leroy Forlines? It looks good though Amazon has had it out of stock for a while.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thanks for telling me. I own Leroy Forlines's book called "The Quest for Truth." Regarding the new book, I have heard about it...though not actually seen it. I'm planning to get more information on that book so that I can purchase it. I've got a wish list at amazon of quite a few books on Arminius as well as John Wesley's theology that I'd like to purchase. Even with having my theology where it is after eighteen months of reading, writing, and searching, I still don't know enough about Arminius and Wesley. I guess that will make my time here at CTS more exciting! Learning can only make a blog grow!!!

I'll get back to you if I hear something about the new book or see it on Amazon. If you're free around the holidays, I plan to do more posting stick around. Merry Christmas to you...